Monday, December 9, 2013

The Mystery of the Seahorse and its Peculiar Shapebe

The seahorse, as you most likely know, gets its name from having a bent neck and long snouts that resemble horses. This unique fish, with its odd-shaped body that doesn’t even have a tail fin, gives it the distinction of being one of the slowest swimmers in the world. According to marine biologist Brad Gemmell of the University of Texas at Austin, seahorses don’t swim all that much, choosing instead to anchor themselves with prehensile tails to seagrass, much like monkeys do. 
Since seahorses seem to be poor swimmers, just how do they find food? This is the question Gemmell and his colleagues sought to answer in their research, investigating how these unique fish feed on miniscule crustaceans known as copepods.

Copepods, which look like shrimp but only on a microscopic level, are a crucial part of the marine food chain, as Gemmell points out. They’re fed on a by a huge variety of marine animals, particularly during the early stages of their lives. And yes, they’re also fed on by most of the commercially harvested fish we know today.

Being a type of prey animal highly fed on by fish, have evolved to come armed with some effective escape behaviour. These critters are sensitive to water disturbances, in particular, movements in the water made by approaching predators.

When in flight mode, copepods can swim distances over 500 times their body size per second. That’s incredible, considering that the fastest land animal, the cheetah, can only do 30 times its body length per second. If humans had the same speed of a copepod, they could run close to 2,000 miles per hour.

It’s interesting to note that despite being slow swimmers, seahorses excelled at capturing the quicker, highly evasive copepods. Their body shape allows them to drift without disturbing the water, while their prehensile tails allow them to stay stationary and wait for prey. 

Learn more about the seahorse on Discovery News.

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